WHILE Zanu PF and government leaders wine and dine at the high table commemorating Zimbabwe’s 34th independence celebrations and gloat about the sovereignty of the country, some widows of fallen national heroes have expressed mixed feelings about the day.
Some like the widow of the late decorated former deputy commander of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) General Lookout Masuku, Gift, expressed discontent saying nothing had been done to cushion them from the economic hardships.
Masuku died in April 1986 at Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare where he had been taken from detention at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison.
He was arrested in 1982 together with Zipra commander Dumiso Dabengwa on allegations of plotting to overthrow President Robert Mugabe’s government.
The court found Masuku innocent, but he remained incarcerated until his death.
Families of liberation war heroes are languishing in extreme poverty as they have to make-do with a paltry $100 monthly Widows’ Pension Fund and have nothing to show for the sacrifice of their loved ones in fighting the white supremacist rule of Ian Smith’s Rhodesia.
While Masuku played a pivotal role in the liberation struggle his family is struggling to make ends meet with his widow eking out a living by using her sewing skills. She runs a flea market stall at the Unity Village in the Bulawayo city centre.
Masuku has two children Thokozile (36) and Zakheleni (33) who live abroad.
Gift said she spoke at length about the plight of fallen heroes’ families last year and there was nothing more she could add since her circumstances had still not changed.
“I have said a lot about our plight. Last year I said a lot about problems that we are facing as widows and now I am giving other widows a chance to echo their discontent,” said Gift.
The widow of Cain Nkala, the former chairperson of the Bulawayo war veterans, Sikhumbuzo, said independence meant a lot to her because she now lived freely from the yoke of colonial bondage.
Nkala died in mysterious circumstances after being allegedly abducted from his Magwegwe home on November 5, 2001 and subsequently murdered.
His body was exhumed from a shallow grave at Norwood Farm near Solusi University about 40km south west of Bulawayo on November 13, 2001.
Sikhumbuzo also runs a vending stall at the Unity Village in Bulawayo.
“I know what independence means to me. I lived during the Smith regime and I know what I mean by independence; we must celebrate it because it changed the colonial rule to the black majority rule. I am running a stall at Unity Village because of independence,” said Sikhumbuzo.
“As a widow, my kids have the privilege of choosing which department must pay their school fees hence they choose between the Social Welfare Department and the war veterans’ association.
“If the coffers are dry we are given letters so that we can advise the institutions that there have been delays and they definitely pay up,” she said.
However, Sikhumbuzo said she was unhappy with the removal of assistance for children who would have reached 18, which is the legal age of majority.
“I am disturbed by the way the government conducts its business, especially when it says a person who has reached the legal age of majority cannot be assisted despite the fact that these children will still be under my roof,” said Sikhumbuzo.
She said had her husband been alive, their children over the age of 18 would still be getting assistance and his death had left a huge economic and and social void in her family.
“My husband fought and died for this country therefore the government must cover that gap. Yes we have difficulties but people must celebrate Independence Day,” she said.
Zapu leader Dumiso Dabengwa said widows and children of fallen heroes as well as war veterans in general were not getting what they deserved.
“Widows and their children are not getting adequate assistance from the government and this does not spare war veterans,” said Dabengwa.
“The government is failing to fulfil its promises. Sometime in the early 2000s, a war veterans’ board was formed and l was appointed as the vice-chairperson of the board with (the late Solomon) Mujuru as chairperson.
“Its functions were aimed at taking care of widows and their children and dealing with war veterans’ problems but the board was never properly co-ordinated,” Dabengwa said.
He said independence celebrations would have divided attention as some children would be celebrating with full stomachs while others would be hungry.
The majority, Dabengwa said, would not have transport to go and celebrate the day at the designated venues.
“People will celebrate independence with divided attention. Some children will be well fed and some will be hungry. Transport will be provided for some to go and attend the celebrations and some will not although their spouses, fathers or mothers were heroes,” Dabengwa said.